The future is just more of the past waiting to happen. You do not want to know my past nor do you want to know my name for the simple reason that I have none and would have to make it up to please you. What my eyes say has never been true. All these years of my life are in my hands, not in these eyes or even in this head. I woke up one day […] and decided that from this day I had no name. I was just boy, mule, nigger, slave or whatever else anyone chose to call me.
“My hand is not the whip son,” I said or imagined saying to him. He nodded to everything, then nothing. I had to have no name to match this look and the remainder of this life.
Worry cut those paths in my face. I let it happen because I didn’t feel it happening and only knew it was there when someone called me Sour-face one day and I looked in the mirror for evidence and found plenty staring back at me.
What was I before this? I forget. Did I smile? Laugh out loud? Don’t recall. To laugh. What is that? I think of a donkey braying. That is like a big laugh, involuntary, involving the whole body, noisy and long and toothy.
There are two types of slave: the slave who must experience everything for himself before coming to an understanding of anything and he who learns through observation. The slave in the first category behaves as if he is the only slave in the world and is visited by the worst luck on earth. That type of slave is agitated, brings much trouble on his head and he makes the lot of every slave ten times worse. It is generally accepted that the slave in the second category is brighter, lives longer, causes everyone around him a minimum of worries and earns the small kindness of the overseer and the master.
I killed my son because I wanted him next to me when I died. Just as he had held his heavy mother weighted by death for me to listen to her last breath, he would hold my head to help my last words out.
Protector of the worst fate of your people or any people. Is that what I have become? The master of my fate. No longer in need of control or supervision. One so accustomed to his existence that he impinges on his own freedom and can be left to his own devices. A master of his own slavery. Slave and enslaver. Model slave. Self-governing slave. Thinks freedom is death. Thinks paradise is the afterlife.
“This inhuman display parading as discipline is a regular occurrence on these so-called ‘tightly run’ operations. I tell you all the evidence supports my belief that as a long-term measure it is a disaster. Contrary to their arguments, such rough handling provides rougher responses. The human spirit is passive in some but nature shows us that it is rebellious in most.”
“Africans may be our inferiors, but they exhibit the same qualities we possess, even if they are merely imitating us. Their management is best exemplified by an approach that treats them first and foremost as subjects of God, though blessed with lesser faculties, and therefore suited to the trade of slavery.”
I told my son that we are different from slaves in intelligence and human standing before God. He asked why Whitechapel could do a knot that I couldn’t do. His first joke. Not a bad one. I said doing things like that was not a proper measure of intelligence. Then he asked why they were dark and we were bright. His word “bright.”
Whitechapel saved me. The second time I had to tell someone or surely die. There was no one to tell but my husband. Whitechapel saved my life. A child not his. A pure wife no longer pure. Any other man would have thrown me away. He is no ordinary man. His master respects him.
“Whitechapel, you even got a mention in The Virginian.”
“The death of one slave does not make me one of you.”
“True, Whitechapel, true, it does not; it makes you a fool.”
“And, after all you’ve said, a hypocrite too. ‘The slaves have rights as humans; they are not just tools.’”
“What about this? ‘Show them respect and they’ll work hard.’”
“‘They may be inferior but they’re people like us.’ Lost your tongue, Whitechapel?”
Your policy of a judicious whip failed to save him. There is only one whip, it eats flesh.
“Our line of work is slaves, we can’t change the fact. We do it the way we think best serves our investment.”
“It’s not a charity.”
“We are Christians but Christianity does not equal weakness.”
“We treat our slaves with a firm hand, we’re severe in the hope that other slaves will behave well out of fear.”
“How could your Whitechapel watch and not intervene?”
“He lost a son in deference to authority.”
“Name your price. That slave of yours is a slaver’s dream.”
“He’s still not for sale.”
“He deserves your family name.”
“Well said indeed.”
“If he were white he’d still be rare.”
“Let’s drink a toast. To Whitechapel and to his slave.”
You would hold up your glorious life as an example of the slave who has done all the proper things to survive and earn the respect of the master and overseer.
I can hear you, my husband. Your voice is strong and clear but without the strength and clarity of the voice of my son as he lifts word after word from the pages of a book.
“By teaching little Whitechapel to read and write when he can never use it you have done him the gravest injustice.” I want to reply that a law which says a slave should not read and write is unjust. But I look at my feet and nod when he enquires whether I have heard every word. He said it might be possible in the future. I look up at him and, as if to dash my hopes of a future when Chapel and I could sit and read together, he adds, in the next century, perhaps.
Young, nubile female slaves are a temptation to us all, but one that should be religiously avoided. […] If these female slaves are used in this way they engender bitterness in a house between the overseer and his wife or the master and his wife. The slave may even become aware of this influence and exploit it to her own advantage. I therefore argue for restraint.
He never talked about Africa. It was his view, I found out later, that such talk promoted day dreams and insolence on the plantation. He said Africa was his past and not ours. If anyone had the right to dream about it, he did and he chose not to, so why should anyone else.
“I couldn’t strike you. You showed me how to run things. My father spoke highly of you. You were a better overseer than I. There I was, thinking I was the first one to rise in the morning, setting an example for everyone, and you were out here even before me. Always first and last in everything. I am sorry about your son. Not my brother. I knew him only as the son of a slave. He was trouble from the day he talked. He not only asked questions but when you gave him an answer he was never satisfied. He always asked why: Why this? Why that?”
“Shall I tell you about your blood? That two races are distributed evenly in it? Shall I help you prepare for a life elsewhere? Where? This is the only place I know. Maybe I am wrong, I wonder to myself as I see myself doing it, wrong to tell the master that my son is gone and say I want him back under my guidance and protection. Then I ask myself, after I see the entire scene, what guidance? What protection?”